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Taste Buds

Taste Buds

Introduction: (Initial Observation)

All healthy people are able to identify different tastes by placing a substance in their mouth. Obviously there are sensory organs in our mouth that are able to handle complex task of tasting. We call these sensory organs “Taste Buds”. The ability to taste is our first defense that protects us from eating harmful substances. Because of the importance of the taste buds we must first know where are they located and how to protect them. In this project you will identify the location of taste buds. This by itself is the first step toward protecting the taste organs. When we know where are the taste buds we will protect them against burning, injury or damage by strong chemicals.


This project guide contains information that you need in order to start your project. If you have any questions or need more support about this project, click on the “Ask Question” button on the top of this page to send me a message.

If you are new in doing science project, click on “How to Start” in the main page. There you will find helpful links that describe different types of science projects, scientific method, variables, hypothesis, graph, abstract and all other general basics that you need to know.  

Project advisor

Skills required and practiced in this project:

  • Making Observations
  • Communicating Findings
  • Making Inferences
  • Drawing Conclusions

Information Gathering:

Find out about tongue, taste and flavors. Read books, magazines or ask professionals who might know in order to learn about the effect or area of study. Keep track of where you got your information from.

Following are samples of information you may find:


  • Our tongues have four basic types of taste buds: bitter, sour, salty, and sweet.
  • Our taste buds are located in specific areas on our tongues.

Prerequisite Vocabulary


The flavor and sensation of food and liquid. (we sense flavors due to taste buds located on our tongues and that taste buds are located in special areas of the tongue.)

Taste buds

Little organs found on the tongue that sense and communicate different flavors in foods and liquids. The main types of flavors and sensations are sweet, salty, bitter, and sour.


to perceive the odor or scent of through stimuli affecting the olfactory nerves : get the odor or scent of with the nose


  • Eating would be pretty boring if we didn’t have taste buds! Everything would taste the same.
  • Most insects use their mouths to taste flavors just as we do. But some insects can use other parts of their bodies to taste with, too! For example, a butterfly tastes food with its mouth and its feet. Ants can taste food with their mouths and with their antennae.
  • People can only taste food and liquids with the taste buds in their mouths. But we sense flavors by using our sense of smell, too!
  • We also have a few taste buds on the lips (especially salt-sensitive ones), the inside of the cheeks, the underside of the tongue, the roof of the mouth, and the back of the throat.
1. What are “taste buds”?

  • “Taste buds” are little organs all over our tongues that interpret or pick up the sense of what are in our food and drinks.


Question/ Purpose:

What do you want to find out? Write a statement that describes what you want to do. Use your observations and questions to write the statement.

The purpose of this project is to identify and locate the taste buds in our mouth/ tongue. Samples of questions to answer are:

  1. Where are the taste buds located?
  2. Can each taste bud identify all tastes?

Identify Variables:

When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other.

The independent variable is the area of the tongue. Possible values are “Tip”, “front left”, “front right”, back left, back right, center, center back.

Dependent variable is the taste each area can identify.


Based on your gathered information, make an educated guess about what types of things affect the system you are working with. Identifying variables is necessary before you can make a hypothesis.

This is a sample hypothesis:

Taste buds are spread all over the tongue. Each taste bud can identify all different tastes.

Note that a hypothesis is just a guess based on your previous experiences or studies. After doing your experiments you may find out that your hypothesis is not correct.

Experiment Design:

Design an experiment to test each hypothesis. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do to answer each question. This list is called an experimental procedure. For an experiment to give answers you can trust, it must have a “control.” A control is an additional experimental trial or run. It is a separate experiment, done exactly like the others. The only difference is that no experimental variables are changed. A control is a neutral “reference point” for comparison that allows you to see what changing a variable does by comparing it to not changing anything. Dependable controls are sometimes very hard to develop. They can be the hardest part of a project. Without a control you cannot be sure that changing the variable causes your observations. A series of experiments that includes a control is called a “controlled experiment.”

Experiment 1: Where are our taste buds located on our tongues?


  • Lemon juice
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Powdered instant coffee
  • Cups to label and put these food materials in
  • Toothpicks
  • Pencils


This experiment is designed to help us figure out where our different taste buds are located on our tongues. This experiment will help us to find out:

  1. What are taste buds?
    Name different foods and liquids that are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. You might write down these categories on a blackboard or piece of paper and jot down their examples.
  2. Why don’t all foods and liquids taste the same?
    How do taste buds sense and communicate to us different flavors.
  3. Where are the buds for particular tastes located?
    Are taste buds evenly distributed over the tongue? or certain tastes are experienced more intensely in some areas than others.


  1. Collect and prepare the following materials:4 cups labeled and containing salt, sugar, lemon juice, and instant coffee
  2. Look at a drawing or an image of tongue. Take time to think about how you are going to describe where we taste different flavors—tip of tongue, back of tongue, sides or edges of tongues. On the sides or edges, we can break it down to more towards the front or more towards the back of the tongue.
  3. Use a toothpick to apply lemon juice to the tip, back and sides of the tongue. Think about what area of the tongue responds to the sour flavor of the lemon juice. Put a check in your results table where you think you sensed the sour flavor of the lemon juice. (Sample results table is bellow)
  4. For powdered materials, you may need to lick your toothpick before you dip it into a cup to get a sample. Dip the toothpick into the powdered coffee and experiment with dabbing it on your tongue in different locations. Where do you pick up the bitter flavor of coffee? Put a check in the box on the results table where you sensed the coffee’s bitter flavor.
  5. Dip the toothpick into sugar. Again, experiment with dabbing sugar on different locations of your tongue. Where do you pick up a sweet flavor? Put a check on the box on your results table.
  6. Dip toothpick into salt (you may need to lick the toothpick first!) Try dabbing salt on your tongue. Where do you really pick up a salty flavor and taste? Check the box on your results table.




Tip Back Edge
Lemon Juice (sour)
Coffee (Bitter)
Sugar (Sweet)
Salt (Salty)

Experiment 2: The Effect of flavor on Taste

Introduction: Before we taste something, we often smell the flavor too. Some times our sense of small detects a flavor long before we see the food. In this experiment we want to determine if the flavor affects the taste.

You Will Need:

  • Flavored hard candies
  • A partner
  • Notebook and pen

What To Do:

  • Get a partner to do the experiment with you.
  • Have one person close their eyes and hold their nose, while the other person feeds them a flavored hard candy without telling them the flavor.
  • The person with the candy in their mouth should try to guess what flavor the candy is without letting go of their nose. Give them several minutes so the candy has a chance to dissolve in their mouth. This will give them enough time to detect the flavor.
  • Is there any change in the taste of the candy from the beginning to the end of the experiment? Describe the tastes.

What This Means:

Much of what we perceive as “taste” is due to our sense of smell. At first, you may not be able to tell the specific flavor of the candy, just perhaps a sensation of sweetness or sourness. If patient, as the candy dissolves you can identify the specific taste. This is because some scent molecules volatilize and travel up through a “back door” – a passage at the back of the throat to the nose. Since we can only taste four different true tastes – sweet, sour, salt and bitter – it is actually smell that lets us experience the complex, mouthwatering flavors we associate with our favorite foods.

Materials and Equipment:

Please see the list of materials in each experiment.

Results of Experiment (Observation):

Experiments are often done in series. A series of experiments can be done by changing one variable a different amount each time. A series of experiments is made up of separate experimental “runs.” During each run you make a measurement of how much the variable affected the system under study. For each run, a different amount of change in the variable is used. This produces a different amount of response in the system. You measure this response, or record data, in a table for this purpose. This is considered “raw data” since it has not been processed or interpreted yet. When raw data gets processed mathematically, for example, it becomes results.


If you do any calculation for your project, write your calculations in this part of your report.

Summery of Results:

Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments.

It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.

Make a drawing of the tongue and mark the areas based on the taste sensed in that area.

Why is there no “Answer Key”?

Such maps of our tongues do exist, but we choose not to provide one. First, there is too much individual variation (and variation over the course of your life, as you lose taste buds) for a single, accurate answer key. But primarily, we choose not to provide the “ right answers” because that would undermine the purpose of these activities, which is to communicate not so much specific knowledge as the process of doing science: observing carefully, forming hypotheses, and drawing conclusions based upon your own experimental data. A good scientist does not waste time asking questions that she already knows the answers to, and she tries mightily to avoid interpreting her data to fit a foregone conclusion.


Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened, and assess the experiments you did.

1. What are taste buds?

2. Where are our taste buds located on our tongues?

Share the information you gathered from doing your experiments. On what part of the tongue did we sense salty, sweet, bitter, and sour flavors?

Related Questions & Answers:

What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.

How does Color effect taste?

Are your taste buds affected by your other senses?

Taste buds and red wine/cigarettes?

Taste buds and weight loss?

Why does lettuce taste like gasoline now?

Possible Errors:

If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically.

If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.


List your References in this section of your report.

Find further information at these sites:

Other Related Activities/ Experiments

1. Introduction

a. Our purpose is to see if the number of taste buds that a person has influences their sense of taste. Many factors are taken into account in this process. Our hypothesis is that the more taste buds a person has the better sense of taste they will have. By better sense of taste we mean that they can more easily detect saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, and sourness. There are many factors that can also influence taste such as, smoking, tongue piercings, age, and other various health records. We believe that the four different areas of the tongue contribute to different tastes that we taste. The other four senses help to determine the tastes of things.
b. We plan to accomplish enough background research and experimentation that will prove our hypothesis. We want to show that the more taste buds you have the better sense of taste you will have. We plan to experiment by counting the number of taste buds on each person’s tongue and relating it to the way that they taste different foods.
c. The relevance of this information is to see how various health issues affect one’s sense of taste. This research is also interesting because different people taste foods differently. Certain individuals enjoy certain foods that others do not. We would like to show why this difference is so evident. These factors are also helpful in the marketing of certain foods. The way a food tastes must be pleasing to the majority of people.

2. Relevance of your research question

a. Literature Review—What have others done?
Your Sense of Taste
This article describes the steps of tasting foods and other substances. It discusses why things taste the way that they do, and why tastes change over time.
Fountainhead Water Challenge
This article discusses a water taste-testing test that can be conducted to relate to taste of different people. This is a possible source for an experiment that we can use.
Re: Taste buds and blood
This article discusses how many taste buds are actually on a tongue. It describes a method of determining approximately how many taste buds are on the tongue.
How Your Taste Can Change
This article talks about how there are many different types of tasting disorders. It specifically relates them to certain health conditions.
Experiments In Good Taste
This article describes the various influences on taste. It talks about disorders in the sense of taste. There are a number of experiments described that help determine if you are a “supertaster”.
How do taste and smell work?
This article discussed show taste and smell are related. It shows how they work together to help us taste foods. There are four basic taste sensations that make up our tongue and sense of taste.
The Five Senses: Taste
This article spells out that there are four main taste sections on the tongue. It talks about varying amounts of taste buds in different age groups and where the taste buds live. There is an experiment in this article to teach us about identifying certain tastes.
Re: Can You Fool Your Taste Buds?
This article describes how taste involves other senses such as, smelling and seeing something, before tasting it.
The Investigation Of The Taste Buds
This article discusses a variety of experiments that can be developed to see how certain tastes are affected by different circumstances in different individuals. It deals with taste being affected by salvia, scent, sight, and different areas of the tongue.
Taste Alterations
This article deals with how taste can be drastically affected by radiation. It tells people how to deal with the effects after losing many taste buds. There are methods to build up your taste and bring it back.
Dictionary Information: Definition Taste
This article is very plainly the definition of taste and the synonyms that relate to taste.
The Innervation of Taste Buds In…
This article goes to describe to the tiniest detail of the details of the toungue.
Taste Buds
An example picture of a magnified taste bud.
Example: Taste Buds
This article is more of a medical interpretation of the sense of taste. It gives a detailed description of the taste buds and their role in the mouth.
Example: Taste Buds
This article is also more of a medical approach to the thought of taste and taste buds. It also deals with a very good description of the taste buds and their role in the sense of taste.
Physiology Of Bitter Taste
This article deals with the idea that the nerves that are in the tongue help to transfer the taste to the brain. It discusses the sensory parts and the textures that make up the tongue.
Stick Out Your Tongue and Say Aah!
This article is about all aspects of the tongue. It discusses how the tongue works. There are lots of parts that work with the tongue to help us eat, breathe, sleep, talk, and sing. There are different experiments to try to fool your taste buds in this article.
Re: Why Are Taste Buds Clustered In Different Parts
This article discusses why taste buds are where they are. This arrangement many affect the different tastes individuals taste. This writing directs us to other sources of valuable information.
Embryonic Taste Buds Develop In The Absence Of Innervation
This article is a more medical approach to the topic of taste. It gives documentation of certain incidences and experiments. Cells are also discussed in this reading.

b. Our research relates to the real world in the aspect of the marketing of foods. If people have different taste senses then they will taste foods differently. This is a factor that food companies must take into account. The various saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, and sourness that are taken into account in each taste of food must be carefully monitored to peoples liking.

3. Materials and Methods

a. Our experimental design is to determine how many taste buds an individual has by conducting an experiment to count the number of taste buds on one’s tongue. These figures will help us to determine how a person’s sense of taste if influenced by the amount of taste buds. We also want to determine each person’s tongue sensitivity by testing it with different salts, foods, and waters.

b. Some important materials that will be used in the experiment of counting taste buds include: wax paper, hole punch, cotton swab, blue food coloring, and magnifying glass. We plan to place a 1” square of wax paper with a hole punch hole through it on each individual’s tongue. Next, we will swab some blue food coloring on the open hole revealing a part of the tongue. Finally, using the magnifying glass we will count the number of papillae in the view. The number of the papillae is multiplied by 250 to find the number of taste buds in each person’s mouth. To determine an individual’s taste sensitivity we will use a salt substitute and saccharin, if both of these have a certain taste it will determine one’s taste for bitterness.

c. We plan on involving the class in our study by having them take various taste tests. We are going to ask them to participate in various surveys and questionnaires. We would also like the class to measure the amount of taste buds on their tongues.

d. Data Sheet:

Name # of taste buds Results Water Results Salt Health Condit.

“Taste Buds”

Kinnon Himes

August 18, 1999

Brief Description of the Lesson: The main focus of this lesson is for the children to learn more about their sense of taste including what exactly are taste buds and where are they located. The goal of the lesson is to have children experiment in their groups with four types of food. They are to categorize each food into a basic taste bud group as well as determine where these taste buds are located. Also a goal of the lesson is to have the children participate in a discussion on the topic after the experiment.

Grade Level: This lesson is appropriate for sixth grade as stated in The Alabama Course of Study – Students will exhibit habits necessary for responsible scientific investigation.

Background Information: Our tongues have four different types of taste buds: bitter, sour, salty, and sweet. Out taste buds are located in specific areas on our tongues. Our bitter taste bud is in the back, our salty and sour buds are on the sides of our tongue and the sweet bud is on the tip of out tongue. Taste is actually the flavor of food and liquid and taste buds are little organs found on the tongue that sense and communicate different flavors in foods and liquids. The main types of flavors and sensations are sweet, salty, bitter and sour.

Most insects use their mouths to taste flavors as we do. Some insects can use other parts of their bodies to taste with, too. For example, a butterfly tastes food with its mouth and its feet. Ants can taste food with their mouth and their antennae.

Seventy to seventy-five percent of what we perceive as taste actually comes from our sense of smell. The odor molecules from food give us the most of our taste sensation. When you put food in your mouth, odor molecules from that food travel through the passage between your nose and mouth to olfactory receptor cells at the top of your nasal cavity, just beneath the brain and behind the bridge of the nose. If mucus in your nasal passages becomes too thick, air and odor molecules can’t reach your olfactory receptor cells. Thus, your brain receives no signal identifying the food, but no messengers can tell your brain, “This cool, milky substance is chocolate ice cream.” The odor molecules remain trapped in your mouth. The pathway has been blocked off to those powerful perceivers of smell–the olfactory bulbs.

Concepts Covered in the Lesson: Taste is a funny little word. It has to do with the kinds of flavors we experience in the foods we eat and the liquids we drink. Taste buds are little organs all over our tongues that interpret or pick up the sense of what flavors are in our food and liquids.

Materials and Equipment:

  • lemons
  • sugar cubes
  • peanuts
  • unsweetened chocolate
  • paper plates
  • tongue chart

Procedures: Ask the guiding questions: What are taste buds? Share information about different foods and liquids that are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Write down these categories on a blackboard or piece of paper and jot down their examples. Why don’t all foods and liquids taste the same? Wouldn’t it be boring if everything did taste the same? Introduce concept of little organs on our tongues called “taste buds” and how these sense and communicate to us different flavors. Where are our taste buds located on our tongues? Have students stick out their tongues and check out a friend’s. Can they see taste buds on the tongues? Which taste buds pick out salty, sour, sweet, or bitter flavors? Today, we are doing an experiment to help us figure out where our different taste buds are located on our tongues.

Today we are going to do an experiment to help us figure out where our different taste buds are located on out tongues. The materials people will get a materials tray for their group and they will begin to experiment with the different foods. The students will fill out a tongue graph as a group. We will collaborate and discuss our findings as a group.

Assessment: The tongue graph will be collected for assessment. Also during discussion I will be listening for evidence that they understand we sense flavors due to taste buds located on our tongues in special areas.

Internet Resource: www.eecs.umich.edu – this web site has useful information concerning our sensory organs.

Science Process Skills: The children used their observation and investigation skills in this activity.


  1. Taste only those items that you are directed to taste.
  2. Clean up anything that spills.
  3. Do not share food items or utensils with others.
  4. Be aware of any food allergies that some people may have.

Tasty Buds

For grades 3-12

The taste buds on the tongue are, of course, important for the flavor of food. See if different parts of the tongue are most sensitive to different characteristics of food (i.e., salty, bitter, sour, sweet). Get examples of each of these tastes (for example, salty water, sugary water, vinegar or lemon for sour and onion juice for bitter). Give each student a set of solutions and some toothpicks. Dip the toothpicks into the solutions and lightly touch the tongue. Repeat the tests on different portions of the tongue. It may help to drink a bit of water in between tests. Also be careful in testing the back part of the tongue…some people may gag! Are parts of the tongue more sensitive to specific flavors or are all parts of the tongue equally sensitive to the flavors? Draw a map of the tongue indicating the parts that are most sensitive to the different tastes. Compare tongue maps with the maps from other people.


  • Salt Taste: Salty water
  • Sugar Taste: Sugary water
  • Sour Taste: Lemon juice
  • Bitter Taste: Onion juice or tonic water
  • Toothpicks
  • Colored pencils and paper to draw tongue map


The Nose Knows

For grades K-6

The nose is responsible for part of the flavor of food. To demonstrate this, blindfold a person and have that person hold their nose. Give them something to taste such as an pear or apple slice. Can they tell the difference between the pear and the apple? Try to distinguish the pear slice from the apple slice. Other good comparison items are baby foods: they come in a variety of fruit and vegetable flavors. A test food most kids like is the jelly bean. Buy several flavors of jelly beans and have everyone try to guess the flavor (with and without the use of their nose). The advantage of using the baby foods and jelly beans is that they are have the same texture. Therefore, the blindfolded person will not be able to use touch information to distinguish the different items.


Foods to taste: fruit or vegetable slices, baby food, jelly beans


No Saliva, No Taste?

For grades 3-12

In order for food to have taste, chemicals from the food must first dissolve in saliva. Once dissolved, the chemicals can be detected by receptors on taste buds. Therefore, if there is no saliva, you should not be able to taste anything. To test this theory, dry your tongue with a clean paper towel. Once your tongue is dry, try tasting a few samples of salt, sugar or other dry foods. Rinse your mouth and dry your tongue after each test.


  • Food items – sugar, salt, crackers and other dry food
  • Clean paper towels
  • Water (for rinsing in between tests)

Tasty Visions

Experiment #1

For grades 3-12

Does what you see influence what you taste? Find out here. Get four different flavored sodas (fruity ones such as lemon, grape, cherry, etc.). These sodas should also be different colors. Also get one unflavored, clear soda (such as, club soda or seltzer water). Add a few drops of food coloring to the unflavored, clear soda (orange works well). This will make it LOOK like orange soda, but of course, it will NOT have any taste. Pour the five drinks into different cups for taste testers. Ask people to tell you what each drink tastes like.

How many people said your unflavored drink was “Orange”?

Food companies add color to food to influence what it tastes like. People like to see foods in colors that they expect.


4 different flavored sodas, 1 unflavored, clear soda

  1. Cups
  2. Food Color

Experiment #2

For grades 3-12

In this experiment, use jelly beans instead of soda. For each subject you test, you will need pairs of jelly beans. For example, get 2 cherry jelly beans, 2 lime jelly beans, 2 lemon jelly beans and 2 orange jelly beans. Each jelly bean flavor has its own unique color: red for cherry, green for lime, yellow for lemon and orange for orange. Divide the jelly beans into two groups: each group should have one of each flavor.

Label small containers or napkins with the numbers 1 through 4. Place the jelly beans from the first group into a container or on a napkin – one jelly bean into each container or on each napkin. Wrap the jelly beans in the second group in foil or place them in a cup so that your subjects cannot see them. Label these cups with the numbers 1 through 4. Make sure that the flavors of the second group have different numbers than the flavors in the first group.

Now you are ready to start the experiment. If you want, you can tell your subject the names of the flavors that they will be tested. In other words, you can say, “The jelly beans you taste will be either cherry, orange, lime or lemon.” Tell your subject to look at the jelly bean in container #1 of the first group and then taste the jelly bean. After they have tasted the jelly bean, tell your subject to write down its flavor. Do the same thing with jelly beans #2-#4.

The next part of the experiment is a bit more difficult. You must keep the color of the jelly beans in group 2 hidden from your subjects. You can blindfold your subjects or have them close their eyes while they taste the jelly beans. Keep track of the flavors that your subjects say each jelly bean tastes like. You can even tell your subjects that the flavors they will taste will be the same as before.

What are the results? Did you subjects make any mistakes when they could not see the color of the jelly bean? If they did, what was the most common mistake? What would happen if you used an unusual flavor? What would happen if you found a jelly bean with an abnormal color…for example a red-colored lemon-flavor jelly bean?


At least 4 different flavored jelly beans (two of each flavor for each subject)

  • Cups or napkins
  • Pen (to label cups and napkins)

Summary of published experiments  on the influence of sight on the taste of drinks and food.



Using our sense of taste makes us so HAPPY! We celebrate our holidays with foods that taste good to us, some SWEET, some SALTY, some even slightly SOUR or BITTER, but mix these flavors together and our enjoyment increases.
As soon as, even before, we are born we already love sweet flavors which makes sense because sugars are the chemicals we need for energy and growth. We are born disliking bitterness, a protection against eating poisons. Then we learn to recognize sour and salty flavors as growing babies. We can even keep many tastes in our memory and know when food is spoiled (and not to be eaten) if the taste does not match what we remember.
We relish our taste discussion and the topics it raises….
Discuss the “tastes” of holidays by the foods we associate with them – Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Fourth of July, Passover. If we switched these tastes around how would we feel? Turkey on the Fourth of July? Hot dogs for Thanksgiving? Chocolate eggs for Christmas? What if we could not taste, then every meal and snack would taste the same. Does EVERYTHING we eat or drink have a taste? I wonder how my tongue turns black when I eat blueberries and how the color goes away? After all tongues are not washable, or are they? The saliva our mouths keep creating and swallowing (10,000 gallons in a lifetime!) does the cleaning and rinsing for us.


The body organs used for tasting are the tongue,and the palate in the mouth, but the real detectors, which are found ON the tongue, are the taste buds. When you see bumps on your tongue don’t think they are taste buds, these bumps are called papillae and the taste buds are inside each papillae, maybe a few or a few hundred buds in each one. The flavor must be dissolved in your saliva before any taste bud can handle it, then this flavor – let’s say it’s Mint Chocolate Chip – gathers in tiny, tiny puddles in the bottom of all these taste buds, the receptor taste cells detect the flavor and send the “taste signal” for the mixture (presumably a “GREAT ICE CREAM!” message) to the brain.
Different  TASTE AREAS of the tongue seem better than others at detecting certain flavors. The very tip is best at sweet things, the sides at sour, saltiness is detected all over and the buds right at the back detect bitter things. The tongue can also tell if the food is hot or cold and also the “spicy hotness” which actually causes a mild pain in the tongue.
Please take care of your taste buds by avoiding hot food and tobacco which spoil their efficiency and dull those millions of great tastes there are in the world.


Look at your tongue with a magnifying mirror or check a friend’s tongue with a magnifying glass. You can see the tiny, bumpy papillae but you’ll have to imagine the taste buds.
Describe your tongue: size, color, color and shape.
Dream up and tabulate some wonderful food mixtures that sound so good you feel your mouth watering (salivating) already. Think of some other combinations (ice cream and pickles?) that make you think of throwing up (nausea).
Try to list where different tastes come from in one slice of pizza.


With WARNINGS about tasting only those things the teacher indicates, not sharing straws and using a fresh straw for each taste, try this experiment.
Put a small amount of various-flavored water in each of several small, narrow-necked bottles, labeled with numbers. Set the bottles on a shelf at the students’ eye height to divert any telltale odors which may evaporate. While holding her nose, have each student use a straw to siphon off and taste a small amount of each unknown liquid, then chart the different taste characteristics for each sample. (An incidental lesson on the air pressure which permits the student to cover the end of the straw and siphon off a small amount – that wouldn’t hurt here.)



The experimental level of difficulty can be increased by substituting samples which are mixtures, or greatly decreased by skipping the nose hold.
As a World Wide Web searching exercise, have students check the AMAZING ANIMAL SENSES web site for the tasting abilities of butterflies and bees, earthworms and flies, octopuses and pigs, and rabbits and snakes.


Here’s a tasteful story.
The parade was fun, then we hurried home for a warm drink that tasted both sweet and tart at the same time and some not-too-sweet cookies with raisins in them. Everyone at home seemed to be very busy, all of them in the kitchen bustling around. We went outside to avoid being knocked over!
We jumped in the leaf piles and collected some pine cones which we were just about to bring inside when we recognized the cars pulling up to the curb. It was Grandma and Grandad! We went up the path with them and into the house. Soon after that we all sat down to eat. I asked for white meat because that’s my favorite, then some mashed orange vegetables with a sweet taste, and purple, pickled vegetables that tasted a bit sour but tasted good, and some peas which had no taste at all until I put some salt on them.
For dessert we had a choice, I passed on the first pie and chose the yellow one, made with juice from fruit Grandad bought in the Florida islands. I liked it because it tasted both sweet and sour at the same time.
When everyone had finished eating I helped clear the dishes while the grown-ups ended their meal with that awful, bitter dark brown drink.


Scientists have measured the taste bud density of volunteers. They found that a person who is an “average taster” has about 184 taste buds per square centimeter of tongue – now that’s a lot of tasting – but some people are “supertasters” with 425 buds per sq.cm. whereas those called “non-tasters” average just 96 buds per sq.cm.

Taste Buds

Science: Grades 1-3


Students learn the location of different taste buds in their mouths.


  • Taste Buds pattern (one per student)
  • sugar
  • lemon juice
  • salt
  • tonic water
  • scissors
  • crayons
  • glue


Tell students that taste buds cover their tongues. The interesting thing about a taste bud is that its location in the mouth determines how something will taste when that item touches the taste bud. Have students try this experiment to find the different locations.

Ask the students to sprinkle a little sugar on their tongues, paying attention to where the sugar is when they taste it. This is where their taste buds for sweet foods are located.

Do the same with the remaining materials, one at a time. Lemon juice will find their sour buds, salt will find their salt buds, and tonic water will find their bitter buds.

Have the students color the tongue pattern according to the directions on the page.

Have students cut out the mouth on the face pattern and insert the tongue through the mouth. Then they can glue the tongue in place.



30-45 minutes

Answer Key










Internet Links

Science Is Fun


Activity Sheets

Click here to view and print the activity sheets.